Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The main character in this poem is the tenant who lives in the home that requires repairs which ought to be made by his landlord. His roof needs to be fixed, and his steps are so broken that they have become dangerous. When he takes his complaints to the landlord, they fall on deaf ears, and when he threatens the landlord with physical harm, he is arrested and thrown in jail (though he does not actually offer real violence to the landlord).
The other character is the landlord himself. It is his job to fix what is broken in the property that he rents out, and yet, when his tenant asks him to do so, he simply ignores the request and demands his rent payment. When his tenant refuses, he threatens to evict the tenant and throw all his things out into the street. When the tenant threatens him for failing to do his job, he calls the police to come and arrest the tenant. He is the one in the wrong, and yet it is his tenant that ends up in jail, perhaps because the tenant is black and the landlord is white (given the time when the poem was written: 1940).